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Colorectal Cancer and Clinical Trials – New Opportunities

When HCB2’s founder Melinda Conklin and her late husband Rich learned of his diagnosis of advanced stage colon cancer in 2010 at the young age of 41, clinical trials were not discussed as an option. As a frantic wife and mother of our two children, Melinda ventured online. However, fourteen years ago they were left with confusion, lack of support, and very little guidance regarding the search for clinical trials. Fast forward to 2024 and there still remains confusion and misconceptions among patients about clinical trials even though the clinical research opportunities have grown tremendously over the last decade.

Participating in clinical trials has become easier due to increased support, funding and genetic testing, which has opened an array of life saving and information gathering possibilities. In Virginia we have two Comprehensive Cancer Control hospital systems – VCU Massey Cancer Center and UVA Cancer Center. Due to their designation the medical systems are able to offer an increased number of trials. Based on the patient’s specific case and tumor-type, the search for clinical trials has become efficient within these medical systems. For instance, at VCU Massey Cancer Center it is now routine in the GI Oncology clinic to look for tumor mutations that are specific for each individual cancer. This helps patients to find clinical trials within their organization or elsewhere across the county that are going to uniquely target their cancer.

We spoke with Dr. Khalid Matin, oncologist at VCU Massey Cancer Center and HCB2 board member, to help us highlight the benefits of volunteering for a clinical trial. Below are his insightful answers:

  1. What is the largest misconception about clinical trials? Patients believe they may be placed on a placebo (sugar pill) alone. This is not how most Oncology clinical trials work currently. Patients will receive a standard treatment with/without the investigational drug that is being tested.
  2. What kind of developments and advancements have been made over the last 10 years in clinical trials in general? Apart from developing many more effective drugs, most studies now also look at quality of life for cancer patients. Creating positive outcomes while maintaining a quality of life has become a strong focus.
  3. What would you say to a patient that does not want to be a “guinea pig”? This misconception continues in the public mainstream; however, this is not what oncology research is about in the 21st century. Clinical trials offers the possibility of “getting tomorrow’s treatments today”. Moreover, we are not only helping patients now but future patients as well, while improving the understanding of the disease.
  4. Since VCU Massey Cancer Center’s designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, what has been a large change in oncology? The funding has increased so our clinical trials have been able to increase. Additionally, we now screen all patients for tumor mutations prior to the beginning of treatment at VCU. Most/all of our patients with Colorectal cancer and Pancreatic cancer are involved with this screening as well as getting genetic testing which may provide useful information for them and family members.
  5. What are the specific tumors that are currently involved in colorectal cancer clinical trials at VCU? Clinical trials currently exist for MSI high tumors, Rectal cancer, Advanced Colorectal cancer with KRAS or BRAF mutations.
  6. Are all the medical costs covered while the patient is involved in the VCU clinical trial? Yes, they are typically covered by insurance as the care even during a trial is standard of care. Non-standard drugs and treatments are typically provided/covered through the study. In my 20+ years of doing clinical trials I have not had a study patient get a bill for hospital costs that insurance denied.
  7. What clinical trial options exist for patients that are uninsured or underinsured? VCU is a safety-net hospital so we provide care to them irrespective of their type of or lack of insurance. We also do our utmost to make sure they have access to clinical trials in Oncology, which we feel is part of the standard of care.

Thanks to the rise in cancer clinical trials, patients are living longer and having a higher quality of life. When you take part in a clinical trial, you add to our knowledge about cancer and help improve cancer care for people in the future. Learn more about the clinical trials at VCU Massey Cancer Center Cancer. (https://www.masseycancercenter.org/clinical-trials; https://uvahealth.com/clinicaltrials).

For information about the ongoing clinical trials at UVA Cancer Center, visit https://uvahealth.com/clinicaltrials/category/7611 For broad information regarding cancer treatment options and clinical trials nationwide, please visit Leal Health (https://www.leal.health)